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Using cot beds safely

By Lisa Galliers

Discover where to site your cot bed safely, need-to-know information about drop-sided cot beds and safe mattress advice.

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Where should I put my cot bed?

As well as buying a cot bed you know is safe, the position of the cot bed in your bedroom or nursery is also important. 

For the first six months, it is safest for your baby to sleep in the same room as you, so follow these top tips to keep your baby as safe as possible at night.

Best Buy cot bedsthese have passed rigorous lab tests for safety and durability

1) Away from obvious danger

  • Avoid putting your cot bed beneath a wall-hanging frame, especially one with glass, or a mirror.
  • Keep the cot away from shelves or ledges.
  • Power cables are a strangulation hazard and should be kept well out of reach; even the smallest of babies can have a pretty tight grip.

2) Away from heat sources

  • Babies don’t need especially warm rooms and all-night heating is rarely needed. 
  • Babies should never sleep next to a radiator or in direct sunlight.
  • To keep an eye on the temperature, buy a simple room thermometer. 

See more advice on ideal temperatures in our guide to safe sleeping tips.

3) Away from foot holds

  • Don't leave anything in the cot or place the cot close to another piece of furniture that could provide a foothold and allow the baby to climb out.
  • Cot bumpers, which aren't generally recommended due to the danger of suffocation and overheating, need to be removed when your baby can get up on their hands and knees, so they can't be used to help them climb out.
  • Make sure there are no trailing strings or cot bumper ties, which will pose a strangulation risk.

4) Away from curtains and blinds

  • Strings and cords from curtains and blinds are another potential strangulation hazard - keep them well away.
  • These can also give the baby something to hold on to and pull themselves out of the cot.

5) Use the base in the correct position

  • Many cots and cot beds have bases that can be adjusted lower as the baby grows so that the baby is not able to roll or climb out of the cot.
  • Make sure yours is on the correct setting, and check regularly to avoid any bumped heads when your baby inevitably tries to climb over the top.
  • The highest base position is only suitable for use until the baby is about three months old.
  • The lowest position is the safest and should always be used as soon as your baby is old enough to sit up unaided – usually about eight months old.

When is it time to change from a cot to a bed?

  • Change the cot into a bed when your baby can reach over the top rail, or shows any signs of trying to climb out.
  • It's safer to convert it to a bed so they can't hurt themselves when escaping, rather than spending hours in A&E with a bumped head.
  • The lowest side of the cot shouldn’t be lower than the shoulder height of your baby. 
  • Once your baby is able to pull themselves up to stand (approximately nine months old) and get their arms over the side rail, they will be able to climb out.

Are drop-sided cot beds safe?

Drop-sided cots have been banned in the US after several children died after becoming trapped between the drop side and the base of the bed. Some people still have concerns over their safety. Since the issue in the US, the European safety standard has been changed to require a lock on cot bed drop sides when in the lowered position. 

Our furniture safety experts believe that this type of accident is not possible with a cot bed that complies with the relevant British standards for cots, which are different from less-stringent standards in the US. So make sure you look out for the BS EN 716: 2005 marking. Never leave your child unattended in the cot when the drop side is down.

In our cot bed tests, we found that assembling a cot bed incorrectly can lead to minor problems that won’t happen if it is put together correctly, so make sure you always check the instructions carefully and retain them for future reference.

How do I know my baby's head won't get trapped between the bars?

Look for a cot bed that conforms to British Standards BS EN 716 as a cot, and BS 8509 as a bed.

The distance between each bar should not be less than 25mm (one inch) and more than 60mm (2.5 inches), so that your baby’s head can’t get trapped.

As your children get older, keep an eye out to check that the bars remain smooth and securely fixed.

Cot bed reviews – we stick probes that simulate a child's head, fingers and limbs into all parts of each cot we test to check a child won't get trapped. Find out which cot beds scored best. 

What kind of cot bed mattress should I use?

There are a wide variety of cot bed mattresses on the market, but it's essential to choose one that fits your cot bed correctly and that you can easily keep clean.

The Lullaby Trust makes recommendations, listed below.

  • It is very important that your baby’s mattress is kept clean and dry.
  • Ideally, you should buy a new mattress for each new baby.
  • If you are reusing a mattress, make sure it's still firm with no tears, cracks or holes and has a waterproof cover. Clean and dry it thoroughly.
  • Always check that the mattress is in good condition; is flat and firm, not soft; fits the cot without any gaps; and doesn't sag.

Cot mattress reviews – find essential information on the pros and cons of different types

Never leave your baby unattended in a cot with the drop side down

Top tips to stop your baby or toddler falling out of a cot bed

  • You can use your cot in the highest position until your baby is three months old.
  • Change the cot base to its lowest position once your baby can sit up unaided.
  • Change the cot to a bed as soon as your toddler shows any signs of attempting to climb out.
  • Once the cot bed becomes a bed, you can buy L-shaped bed guards, The bottom part of the 'L' slides in under the mattress while the uppermost bit sticks up, providing a soft barrier at the edge of the bed. Blow-up guards to put under the sheet are also available.
  • For a homemade solution, put a rolled-up blanket or pillow under the outer edge of the mattress to raise it slightly - your toddler will have to roll up a small incline before he or she can fall out. The incline should make this harder to do.
  • Until your toddler is used to the bed, put a spare mattress, soft rug, blanket or duvet next to the bed to soften a fall if he or she does roll out.

Five tips for assembling your cot bed safely

Cot beds can be a pain to put together, even if you have more than one pair of hands and a reasonable level of DIY experience. 

Our test experts have spent hours upon hours in the lab putting together, adjusting and taking cot beds apart again and again. Each cot bed is assembled at least nine times by our test experts, and then again by parents. 

Having made almost every mistake in the instruction book, we’ve compiled these top tips from our experience to help you avoid the same problems.

1) Get the instructions

  • The instructions contain vitally important information about keeping your baby safe while they sleep.
  • Despite the fact some aren't that helpful, if you don't have the original instructions for your cot bed, get hold of them. 
  • This is especially important if you're using a second-hand cot bed. Most manuals are available online.

2) Get some help

  • Most cot beds are large and unwieldy; it's far easier to plan to assemble them with two people, even though some can be done single-handedly.
  • Most instruction manuals tell you to assemble the cot bed with it standing up, but we found assembling the cot on its side is usually much easier.

3) Use your judgement

  • Instruction manuals are not always as helpful as you'd expect; some contain incorrect pictures or descriptions of what to do. 
  • If the cot bed looks wrong, or is difficult to use, you've probably assembled it wrong.
  • If, when you assemble the cot bed, the base seems really high, you’ve more than likely put it together upside down.

4) Don't use too much force

  • Some cot beds are assembled with wooden dowels to give support to the structure, never bang dowels in with a hammer as we found they can go straight through to the other side of the wood.
  • Splitting the headboards and footboards when you convert the cot to a bed can be really tough - the instructions usually say ‘simply pull it apart’, but as you do this take care not to break the wooden dowels that hold the pieces together.
  • Generally, the bolts supplied are quite poor quality compared to those you might buy from a DIY store. They're easy to cross-thread so they’ll no longer screw up. Make sure you have a few spares on hand when you assemble or reassemble your cot bed.

5) Cot bed adjustment tips

  • When adjusting the height of the base, take one of the fixed sides off so you can see a lot more of the fixings and get a better grip on the components.
  • When adjusting the height of the base, it's often useful to loosen the sides first and then retighten them afterwards. Otherwise, the base is clamped tightly in place and it's difficult to get to all the fixings and manoeuvre the components loose.
  • The instructions often don't give you the best advice on how to operate the drop side. Giving it a gentle nudge with your shin after you lift it up is usually the easiest way to operate the side smoothly.
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